Celebrations for Olmsted’s 200th Birthday Begin - TribPapers

Celebrations for Olmsted’s 200th Birthday Begin

Central Park in New York City was one of the first parks designed by American landscape architect Olmsted.

Asheville – Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) is considered the “father” of American landscape architecture. Next year is the 200th anniversary of his birth. The National Association for Olmsted Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) is considered the “father” of American landscape architecture. Next year will be the 200th anniversary of his birth. The National Association for Olmsted Parks organized many celebrations to augment  Olmsted’s living legacy so that Americans can appreciate his astounding contribution to their current lives. With activities in public education, advocacy, and outreach, Olmsted 200 will begin in April 2021. They will culminate on April 26, 2022 with high-profile coordinated birthday celebrations in Central Park & parks around the country.

Here in Asheville  coinciding with many national events surrounding celebrations under the umbrella “Olmsted 200,” the Biltmore Estate is planning to unveil a new “Olmsted Trail” in April 2022,  which involves new interpretive panels throughout the gardens and grounds in a self-guided walking trail.  This will tell the story of Frederick Law Olmsted and his legacy at Biltmore as one of the primary designers of George W. Vanderbilt’s estate. The trail will discuss landscape design at Biltmore and will relay the national significance of Biltmore as one of Olmsted’s last great works.

George Briggs, the director of The North Carolina Arboretum, has the highest regard for Frederick Law Olmsted. “Olmsted’s design philosophy and approach to process has formed the basis and standard of excellence of modern landscape architectural practice, an influence and that has permeated the planning, design and management of The North Carolina Arboretum.  While his life may have ended more than 100 years ago, Olmsted’s legacy continues today.”  The Arboretum  unveiled a life-size sculpture of Frederick Law Olmsted a few years ago,  which can be found inside the Arboretum’s Blue Ridge Court, located along the Grand Promenade.  More importantly,  there is a PBS documentary, “Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America,” which highlights Olmsted’s work and how his projects and ideology have become an essential part of American life which can be viewed online. 

This July Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, has been offering four outdoor carillon concerts (tower bell ringing).  The audience was invited to enjoy the music of the 49-bell Plumb Memorial Carillon, one of approximately 200 such instruments in North America.  The Garden Club of America has begun a campaign to educate the public about Olmsted’s commitment to Public Parks and his legacy to democratic values—including equal access to parks. On October 27, 2021, a day-long symposium will be hosted by Duke University in DC. with renowned speakers.

This portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted was done by John Singer Sargent and can be found hanging in the Biltmore House. It was completed in 1895.

Highly Influential, Visionary Landscape Architect

Born in Hartford, Conn., in 1822, it was not until Olmsted was 43 years old did he decide to devote himself to landscape architecture. He moved his home to Boston in 1883 and established the world’s first full-scale professional office for the practice of landscape design.  The firm was carried on by Olmsted’s two sons, after Olmsted retired due to failing health the firm was renamed Olmsted Brothers and completed over 6,000 projects. As a prolific writer, Olmsted outlined his approach to design with ten major principles and timeless aesthetic theories, which have greatly influenced the profession today.

Only by learning about the man and his aesthetic choices for landscape design can one fully appreciate how fortunate the United States was to have him at the helm. He was a pioneer in the development of public parks in America—-many of which were influenced by his studies of European parks, gardens and estates.  His vision  can be seen in New York Central Park, the Boston Commons, the University of Notre Dame, and Stanford University. He designed Arnold Arboretum at Harvard, and the grounds surrounding the Capitol in Washington, DC.  He made public parks an essential part of American life, that were not just reserved for the upper classes as they had been in Europe in his time.  

Here locally, Olmsted is known as the landscape designer hired by George Vanderbilt to collaborate with architect Richard Morris Hunt to advise Vanderbilt in creating a comprehensive master plan for Biltmore Estate, which at its peak consisted of 125,000 acres and for Biltmore Village near the Estate’s entrance. The 3 1/2 mile winding Approach Road to the Biltmore House is certainly a wonderful example of Olmsted’s work. The Director of Horticulture on the Biltmore Estate, Parker Andes, strives to keep Olmsted’s design intent intact.  In addition, Olmsted was responsible for suggesting the sustainable operating model based on managed forestry and agriculture. Bill Alexander, retired Estate horticulturist, has done extensive research on Olmsted and is currently working on a book, “Vanderbilt’s Pisgah Forest: Cradle of Forestry” for Arcadia Publishing.

Olmsted desired to use landscape art to meet deep human needs.  He found a crucial element in securing composition was the effective organization of space, no manner how limited the area. He is often known for seven “S’s” of  design:  Scenery, Suitability, Style, Subordination, Separation, Sanitation, and Service. Perhaps by comparing his landscape work with other celebrated European designers can one fully understand and appreciate how appropriate his philosophy was for the United States.  By comparing the formal gardens of notable Andre Le Notre in 17th century France who designed the Gardens of Versailles,  or “Capability”  Brown in the 19th century in England who transformed Chatsworth Gardens to mirror the magnificence of the house, one can better understand Olmsted’s legacy. His philosophy and approach to process has formed the basis and standard of excellence of modern landscape
architectural practice.

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